Vermont cover crop initiative

Project Overview

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2016: $11,111.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2018
Grant Recipient: University of Vermont Extension
Region: Northeast
State: Vermont
Project Leader:
Jeffrey Sanders
University of Vermont Extension

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: corn, wheat
  • Animal Products: dairy


  • Crop Production: cover crops, double cropping
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, farmer to farmer
  • Soil Management: soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: community services

    Proposal abstract:

    Cover cropping is a practice that helps increase soil and crop health, build soil organic matter, reduce soil erosion, and improve water quality. Considerable research and farmer outreach has been conducted in Vermont and throughout the Northeast U.S. on the soil health benefits of adding cover crops to both vegetable and field crop production systems. However, reaping the benefits from cover crops requires that farmers actually take the steps to implement them into their production systems. Therefore, we must address the real and perceived barriers to adoption which include: timing of planting, costs of time and equipment to implement, and the ability to see returns on these investments. To promote wider adoption of cover cropping in Vermont and across the Northeast, our team believes that we must demonstrate that cover crops can be successfully established in our northern climate. In Vermont and other northern areas, just getting cover crops planted is a major challenge because we have such a short growing season. Most farmers currently wait to seed covers after their cash crops have been harvested and this often results in poor or failed stand establishment, and sometimes may exacerbate soil compaction. To address this challenge, researchers like UVM Extension agronomist Dr. Heather Darby have been investigating interseeding as a possible means to establish diverse cover crop mixtures in far northern regions. Interseeding into a cash drop in mid- to late- summer allows the cover crop species more time to establish and grow prior to autumn and winter months. The Penn State Cover Crop Interseeder and Applicator—now called the InterSeederTM —was designed to help establish cover crops into a cash crop stand to address the challenges of cover crop establishment. Providing farmers with information and access to the InterSeederTM may increase the adoption and implementation of cover crops in Vermont. Therefore, this project will complement ongoing efforts by applying the results from replicated small plot research trials that have evaluated dozens of cover crop mixes suitable for interseeding in Vermont to a number of different commercial farm settings. We will demonstrate the use of the InterSeederTM on 9 commercial farm businesses with different production systems and soil types (3 vegetable, 3 grain, and 3 dairy or livestock) using cover crop mixes that are best adapted to interseeding in our climate. Our team will also expand our collective education and outreach efforts focused on cover cropping to both farmer and service provider audiences.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Project objectives include:

    1. Evaluate the efficacy of the InterseederTM to establish cover crops within multiple cropping systems and diverse soil types in commercial settings.
    2. Document determinants involved in interseeded cover crops on multiple farm business settings.
    3. Expand the awareness and knowledge of successful cover crop applications in northern climates among farmers and service providers in Vermont.

    Project Activities

    This project will demonstrate cover crop seeding using the InterSeederTM at 9 commercial farm field locations, including 3 vegetable sites, 3 grain sites, and 3 dairy or livestock sites. We will also conduct outreach in the form of on-farm field days during the fall of 2016 and growing season of 2017 at 4 sites, and through the Vermont No-Till and Cover Crop Symposium. 

    Field Demonstrations Proposed

    The treatments to be demonstrated/tested.

    Each field demonstration will include a simple comparison of cover crop seed mixes or interseed timing. Cover crop mixes that have been tested in Vermont conditions and are approved for use in USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) cover crop programs will be those available for comparison (Table 1). The treatments may also include comparisons of interseed timing. Timing treatments will correspond with crop developmental stages shown to be most conducive for successful interseeding. Comparisons will evaluate cover crop establishment in corn when interseeded at developmental stages between V4 or V7, soybeans interseeded at developmental stages between R1 and R7, and cabbage/broccoli interseeded at early and late growth stages.


    Table 1. Successful Cover Crop Mixes for Vermont.

    Mix 1

    Annual Ryegrass and Tillage Radish

    Mix 2

    Triticale and Dwarf Essex Rape

    Mix 3

    Oats and Tillage Radish

    Mix 4

    Winter Rye, Red Clover, and Forage Brassica

    Mix 5

    Annual Ryegrass and Red Clover

    Mix 6

    Winter Wheat  and White Clover

    Mix 7

    Triticale, Annual Ryegrass, Crimson Clover, Hairy Vetch, and Tillage Radish

    Mix 8

    Annual Ryegrass, Crimson Clover, and Tillage Radish

    Mix 9

    Oats, Red Clover, and Tillage Radish


    In the winter of 2016, project staff will work with collaborating farmers to select demonstration site and treatments to be evaluated at each location. Field sites will be selected to include a variety of soil types (i.e. clay vs loam) and crop management (i.e. organic, no-till). Demonstration sites will be no larger than 10 acres to facilitate timely movement from farm to farm. Farms will be asked to split the field to implement the treatments but highly encouraged to implement replicated strip plots if their schedule allows. If appropriate, farmers will be coached as to the herbicide options appropriate for use with cover crop mixes selected for interseeding. In addition, other crop practices that must be modified for use of the InterSeederTM will be shared during this time. The cover crop mix(es) will be determined so seed can be ordered and ready for project implementation in the early to mid-summer months.

    During the summer of 2017, project staff will work closely with farmers to coordinate the movement of the InterSeederTM from location to location. Once the InterSeederTM is delivered to the farm, technical assistance from the project staff will be available to train each farm user on how to properly calibrate, operate, and troubleshoot issues with the equipment. Project staff will assist with field layout for comparison of treatments. Farmers will implement the treatments.

    Treatments will be implemented at the appropriate growth stage(s). Once interseeding is performed, cover crop monitoring will begin. Cover crop monitoring will be completed by cooperating farmers and project staff. Cover crops will be evaluated for vigor, ground cover, and biomass production in the late fall/early winter. Establishment will be rated on a 1 to 5 scale where 1 = very poor vigor (missing species and slow growth) and 5 = excellent vigor (all species present and robust growth). The percentage of ground covered by cover crop biomass will be measured using photos. Pictures for percent cover analysis will be taken using standard procedures for imaging analysis with Rasmussen and Nørremark’s IMAGING Crop Response Analyser. Height measurements will also be collected. At least 5 biomass samples per site (9 total sites) will be collected along a transect. Biomass will be measured by randomly clipping (to ground level) aboveground biomass from a 1m x 1m quadrat, drying, and determining dry matter yields.

    Collected data will be compiled into a report posted online as well as distributed to participants of the No Till Cover Crop conference. Results may also be used to update an existing publication, “Under Cover: Integrating Cover Crops into Silage Corn Systems Guide,” (available at:

    Number and location of demonstrations/trials.

    The project will implement interseeding demonstrations on 9 Vermont farms, including 3 vegetable operations, 3 grain farms, and 3 dairy or livestock operations. The farms will be located within the Lake Champlain watershed in Addison, Chittenden, Franklin, and Grand Isle Counties. While the precise farms and field locations will be confirmed after the project officially begins, tentatively, we have identified the following farms for the interseeding demonstrations based on their expressed interest in this practice:

    • Vegetable: Singing cedars Farmstead (Orwell); VYCC Farm (Richmond); Mazza’s (Essex)
    • Grain: Gleason Grains (Bridport); Boyden’s Farm (Cambridge); Butterworks Farm (Westfield)
    • Dairy/Livestock: Riverside Farm (Richmond); Windfall Acres (Highgate); Bridgeman View Farm (Franklin).

    Role of farmers in planning and implementation.

    The farmers will select the specific fields in which they would like to interseed the cover crops. They will provide acreage, cash crop, and soil type information. They will also select the cover crop mixes they would like to seed; and implement the treatments.

    Educational Activities Proposed to Facilitate Farmers’ Learning from Field Demonstrations

    The project will offer 5 field days: 2 in the fall of 2016 and 3 during the growing season of 2017. The goal of the field days will be to expand the awareness and knowledge of successful cover crop applications in northern climates among farmers and service providers in Vermont. Adoption takes time and offering fall field days in 2016 will provide the necessary up-front education and outreach to encourage the 250 farmers targeted by this project to take next steps of seeking out additional information (through the No-Till Cover Crop conference and field days offered later in the project). Proposed 2016 field day sites may include Borderview Research Farm and a commercial farm in Addison County that have established stands of interseeded cover crops (planted prior to the start of this project).

    The three field days offered in 2017 will be located on the InterSeederTM demonstration sites (one each on vegetable, grain, and livestock farms). All field days will be three hours in length; we anticipate that no fewer than 30 farmers and 10 service providers will participate in each event. Recruitment will be conducted by posting event flyers on team member websites, through social media, and through direct email to farmers and service providers (through email lists maintained by team members as well as through appropriate listservs). Farmers will be involved as field day hosts; they will provide an overview of the farm, how they have been using cover crops to date, and any observations about utilizing covers on their farms.

    Other Educational Activities

    In addition to the field days outlined above, we also propose to expand the Vermont No-Till and Cover Crop Symposium. Over the past three years, team members from the University of Vermont Extension Champlain Valley Crops, Soils, and Pasture Program and Northwest Crops and Soils Program have been collaborating to organize and implement this event, typically offered during the second week of February each year—to date, the target audience of the symposium has been farmers and service providers interested in utilizing cover crops in silage corn acreage. Funds from NE-SARE Cover Crop Initiative will be used to expand the 2017 conference to offer sessions of interest to vegetable growers and grains farmers interested in integrating covers on their farms. In addition, we will include a panel of at least 3 farmers (one vegetable, one grain, and one dairy/livestock) that participated in the InterSeederTM demonstration project in the 2018 conference. The farmer panelists will share their observations of interseeding cover crops, and any plans they have for implementing cover crops in the future.


    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.